Evidence continues to pile up that the General Services Administration has been doing a perfectly horrible job for many years.
A GSA executive has admitted that his agency's mismanagement and outright fraud cost the American taxpayer more than $100 million a year. Vincent R. Alto, GSA's special counsel in charge of investigating such abuses, has told a Senate sub-committee that GSA employes steal $66 million a year. He added that when "noncriminal negligence" is taken into account, more than $100 million goes down the drain every year. Heaven only knows how much more we lose that he hasn't found out about yet.
Before GSA existed, government agencies took care of their own purchasing and leasing, and kept track of their own property.
Under that system, inefficiency, fraud, theft, mismanagement indifference and red tape were rampant. Reformers thought the hemorrhage of tax money could be stanched by creating a new government housekeeping agency that would transform waste and chaos into efficiency and order.
So the General Services Administration was created by Congress in 1949. Its purpose was to provide the government with "an economical and efficient system for the management of its property and records."
In 29 short years, GSA has come full circle. It began as the new broom with which a government housekeeping agency would sweep out waste and corruption. Instead it became a breeding ground for bigger and more centralized corruption than existed before. There is serious question now whether GSA can be reformed or whether the Congress will have to dismantle it.
The latest chapter in the scordid story of GSA on our front page yesterday.Staff writer Ronald Kessler told how one company, Art Metal-U.S.A. Inc., kept selling desks and file carbinets to GSA -$25 million worth a year - even though its products were recognized to be inferior and always generated a high rate of complaints from agencies to which Art Metal products were assigned.
"We have been receiving inferior equipment from them for years," the Social Security Administration complained in 1973. SSA said more than 80 percent of their Art Metal cabinets needed extensive repairs.
When GSA officials are asked to comment on this situation, they say they have from time to time considered barring Art Metal from doing business with the government, but concluded they were "powerless to do anything" as long as Art Metal submits the lowest bid.
Is that what you would call "an econimical and efficient system" for managing the government's housekeeping agency?
Few GSA rank-and-filers dare to talk to reporters these days because they know what happens to peons who tell the truth. However the continuing frauds at executive levels have been an open secret in many GSA offices for a long time. Now that specific cases are being made public, a few brave souls who are assured that their identities will be protected are occasionally willing to give a reporter some background information.
The reporter is told there is an easy way to rig bids. When GSA wants to buy from a supplier who has an "in." all it has to do is to write specifications that describe the favored supplier's product in minute detail. Any other supplier would have to redesign his product to meet GSA's spees, so there are a few bids. The favored supplier is the low bidder - and very often the only bidder - because he's the only one who already makes a product that fits the specs.
Kess er's story says GSA specs for steel desks are more than 20 typewritenn pages long, single-spaced, and go into such details as the location of each screw and bolt. A supplier who is already manufacturing a desk that meets GSA's specs is obviously the supplier with the best chance of winning the contract.
For years now, the top echelons of GSA have been chummy with favored suppliers who charged too much and supplied too little, and theirdepredations set the tone for thievery at lower levels as well. It has not made much difference whether the Republicans or the Democrats were in power; the tax payer was robbed with equal vigor under both.
It is time the president and the Congress took over the broom at GSA and began to houseclean the housekeeper.